76ers

Mavericks 122, Sixers 102: Disappointment in Dallas as Sixers fail to pick up the slack without Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler

Mavericks 122, Sixers 102: Disappointment in Dallas as Sixers fail to pick up the slack without Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler

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No Joel Embiid (load management/left knee), no Jimmy Butler (back tightness), and a seemingly endless stretch where every shot you throw up clangs off the rim is not a good recipe for a win.

Without two of their stars, the Sixers fell to the Mavericks on Monday night, 122-102, dropping to 49-28 on the season. They’ll conclude their three-game road trip Wednesday night against the Hawks (7:30 p.m./NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss: 

• Jonah Bolden started again in place of Embiid and he couldn’t build on his excellent performance against the Timberwolves. Bolden had two points, seven rebounds and an assist. He wasn’t great defensively either and was a team-worst minus-26.

The Sixers didn’t mind the matchup of Marjanovic, the NBA’s tallest player, against the second tallest — 7-foot-2 Salah Mejri. It was a rare instance in which the opposition couldn't regularly pull Marjanovic away from the rim and target him on defense. Marjanovic had five points and seven rebounds in 13 minutes.

• The Sixers hit a brutal cold spell of shooting in the second quarter, missing three after three during a span of over eight minutes without a field goal to wrap up the first half. Though they missed plenty of open looks, the Sixers also settled for a bunch of jumpers, straying from their early success with Ben Simmons in the post.

It didn’t help that their defense couldn’t string together stops or force a turnover. Rookie Shake Milton had an especially difficult time keeping his man in front of him. 

The Mavs won the second quarter, 41-18. 

• With Simmons guarded at times by 6-foot-3 Villanova product Jalen Brunson and 6-foot Trey Burke, we saw a good amount of “Explosion” — the Sixers’ largely improvisational off-ball movement around Simmons in the post.

Simmons made several impressive passes out of the post, including a bullet from the left block to JJ Redick for a three on the right wing in the first quarter.

He wasn’t as effective down low as a scorer. Though he did get to the line 11 times, making seven, Simmons missed several easy attempts near the rim and shot 5 for 15. 

• There was also a clear emphasis on getting Tobias Harris opportunities in the post early. As usual, Harris was at his best in the first quarter, with nine points on 4 for 6 shooting.

Harris had a strong third quarter at the point, running plenty of middle pick-and-rolls with Marjanovic. It’ll be interesting to see if Harris can develop the same sort of synergy with Embiid in the pick-and-roll once the Sixers’ All-Star center returns.

Harris finished with 25 points.

• Life is generally good for the Sixers when Redick is hitting shots.

He did that Monday night, scoring 21 points in the first half, 26 in the game. 

But nobody else could make a three-point shot — the rest of the team shot a combined 2 for 22 from long range. 

Coming in, the Sixers had been 10-2 this season when Redick scored 23 or more points. 

• Zhaire Smith checked in during the third quarter with the game slipping away, and fellow rookie Haywood Highsmith saw the floor in garbage time. Highsmith shot 1 for 3, scoring his first NBA points since his debut on Jan. 8. Smith, scoreless in nine minutes, displayed his athleticism with a chase-down block late in the fourth. 

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Source: Sixers, Ben Simmons reach 5-year contract worth $170 million

Source: Sixers, Ben Simmons reach 5-year contract worth $170 million

It felt inevitable, and now it’s done.

The Sixers have signed All-Star Ben Simmons to a rookie max contract extension for five years and $170 million, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Shams Charania of The Athletic was the first to report the deal.

While Simmons still has work to do on his jump shot and game as a whole, there was more risk in not getting this deal done. It was a no-brainer for both sides. For Simmons, it’s obvious: This is the most money for the most years he can possibly get. For the Sixers, it avoids the possibility of a major headache next offseason.

The Sixers could’ve let the season play out and let Simmons become a restricted free agent next summer, meaning they would’ve had the right of first refusal. Part of it is peace of mind for Simmons. He can play this season without that potential extension looming over him. It’s also peace of mind for the team. They know the cap situation and won’t have to answer constant questions about “why they don’t believe in Simmons” or something to that effect.

While the Sixers could’ve certainly matched any offer Simmons would have gotten as a restricted free agent, it’s a super dangerous game to play. The Sixers are going to be right up against the cap for the foreseeable future with Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid and Al Horford all locked in. Another team could have had Simmons sign an offer sheet for a shorter term — the shortest term a team can offer is two years — but for a higher salary. If you match that, it could mess up your cap plans and you’d also only have Simmons for two years. It's similar to what the Nets did with "poison pill" offer sheets to players like Tyler Johnson in the past. You also run the enormous risk of souring what’s been a good relationship between the player and the team.

And it appears Simmons isn’t taking the new extension and higher expectations lightly. After making an announcement earlier this summer that he’d be playing for the Australian national team in the FIBA World Cup this summer, Simmons may be changing course. He’s now reportedly “doubtful” to play for Australia so he can “spend his full offseason preparing only for the Sixers season,” per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. He’s already had an active offseason on social media, posting photos of himself working out with other NBA players – including Harris – in Los Angeles with trainer Chris Johnson. Johnson has trained several NBA players, including the departed Jimmy Butler.

Simmons, who will turn 23 later this month, was a first-time All-Star in 2018-19. It’s clear the Sixers view the Australia native as a franchise player for years to come – that’s the biggest reason this came together so quickly.

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James Ennis won Brett Brown's 'quiet tournament' last season, but a new one could be coming for Sixers in 2019-20

James Ennis won Brett Brown's 'quiet tournament' last season, but a new one could be coming for Sixers in 2019-20

By early May, when James Ennis had outscored the Raptors’ bench through the first three games of the Sixers’ second-round playoff series against Toronto, Brett Brown’s “quiet tournament” felt like a distant memory.

About three months earlier, though, Ennis hadn’t left the Sixers’ bench in a game against the Celtics. Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Korkmaz instead combined for 25 minutes in a 112-109 loss to Boston on Feb. 13 as Brown experimented with the newest version of his team, searching for an adequate second-unit wing. Neither Simmons or Korkmaz are currently on the Sixers’ roster.

“It was tough at first because I was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said at his exit interview on May 13. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach Brown allowing me to play.”

Ennis’ spot seems secure for the upcoming season. The Sixers, as Brand noted at Friday’s press conference, are grateful he stuck with the team for less than his market value. Mike Scott is another known quantity off the bench, a player who gives you shooting, versatility, toughness and indelible quotes. Kyle O’Quinn will provide “much-needed depth at the center spot,” Brand said. When healthy, Raul Neto was a solid backup point guard for the Jazz, with three-point shooting ability (37.7 percent for his career) and a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5 assists and 0.9 turnovers per game last season).

Thanks to those veterans, the Sixers should have a decent idea of what they’re getting from their bench. And, with 13 players on the active roster, the team could still add two more pieces. But don’t be surprised if another “quiet tournament” develops in 2019-20, with Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle at the center of the conversation.

Brown was bullish in May about Smith’s chances of factoring into his rotation this season, raving about everything from Smith’s “perseverance and love of basketball” to his defensive abilities.

Smith’s shot, Brown said, “will be the thing that ultimately makes his package whole.” The hyper-athletic 20-year-old made 5 of 16 three-point attempts in summer league (31.3 percent) and 6 of 16 (37.5 percent) in six games at the end of last season. Outside of his jumper, Smith has flashed the knack for making plays in transition, hunting offensive rebounds, cutting smartly and passing intuitively. It remains to be seen how well those other tools will convey in the NBA, though it’s worth considering Smith’s track record of learning new skills at a quick pace and his eagerness to put in the necessary work

Thybulle, selected 20th in this year’s draft and acquired by the Sixers in a trade with the Celtics, plans to play right away. Brand is on the same page.

“We need that piece that can step in right now,” he said on June 21.

There’s little uncertainty about what Thybulle can provide or the role he’ll play. His job will be to get his hands in passing lanes and detonate plays defensively with his impressive anticipation and closing speed. Offensively, he’ll be asked to convert spot-up threes at a respectable rate. The rookie did well in that regard during summer league, making 11 of 28 long-range shots (39.3 percent). 

Playing Smith and Thybulle together at times is an intriguing idea. The pair didn’t take long to form a connection. Thybulle mentioned at summer league minicamp that he was trying to “mimic” Smith, and the two shared some laughs in Las Vegas. There might be a “tournament” at times between the two for minutes, but there could also be an alliance if Brown is willing to tolerate a few youthful errors. As we contemplate the possibilities in July, plenty of options are on the table. Shake Milton could also be a factor at both guard spots.

We can say with plenty of confidence, however, that the 2018-19 edition of Brown’s “quiet tournament” was won in a landslide by Ennis. The 2019-20 version looks to be up for grabs. 

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